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Originally published May 8, 2014 at 4:10 PM | Page modified May 9, 2014 at 9:05 AM

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Climate change is here, not on the way

Gov. Jay Inslee’s efforts on Northwest climate and energy issues were given renewed urgency by findings in the National Climate Assessment, according to columnist Lance Dickie.


Times editorial columnist

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No person or place in the United States is untouched by climate change, and all of the risks, trauma and expense are issues for today, not the future.

That is how Amy Snover, director of the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington, succinctly sums up the findings of the National Climate Assessment released this week.

Snover, assistant dean for applied research in UW’s College of the Environment, helped convene the authors and write the Northwest chapter of the assessment.

This third, congressionally authorized national review is distinguished by its regional specificity and detailed look at nine areas of the country.

For the Northwest, the three primary risks are water supply, coastal vulnerability and impacts on forests.

In our corner of the country, that translates into more rain, rather than snowfall in the mountains, with consequences for agriculture, fish and power supply. Down at the beach, the issues are rising sea levels, erosion and ocean acidification. Wildfires and mountain pine beetles will plague the forests.

None of this is new to Snover and her colleagues, but the message is getting out nationwide in very direct language. More intense storms, sea rise, insects, water loss, health issues, and threats to roads and infrastructure are not coming, they have arrived.

What makes this national assessment different, Snover says, is the local specificity, the data of observed change and the quantifying of what will be different.

The Northwest is ahead of many regions with studies and consultation about climate issues. Actually doing something about adaptation, mitigation and resilience? Not so much.

That could change with Gov. Jay Inslee’s bold executive order to study, plan and initiate efforts to reduce carbon pollution and promote clean energy.

Even his plan must be steeped in resiliency and mitigation just to survive the political battles in Olympia.

The nine-page executive order released April 29 is a commendable action plan to promote carbon-emission reductions, reduce and eliminate use of coal-fired electrical power, develop transportation efficiencies, and promote clean technology, energy efficiency and carbon pollution limits. And have state government lead by example.

Inslee’s Carbon Emissions Reduction Task Force and other panels feature a wide range of public, tribal and private representatives.

They will solicit and vet ideas, and forward recommendations to Inslee by mid-November. The results will shape legislation the governor will seek during the 2015 legislative session.

This is no verdant gubernatorial policy coup by executive order. As the governor noted in a statement last week, most of the major action-plan elements will require either legislative approval or legislative appropriation for funding.

Meanwhile, the public is getting informed about the realities, expense and breadth of climate issues.

Seattle Times readers continue to learn about ocean acidification via the work of news reporter Craig Welch and photographer Steve Ringman. Their project, “Sea Change,” is an extraordinary examination of the impact of carbon dioxide on the oceans.

News reporter Hal Bernton looked at the role of coal in China’s economy and the environmental degradation. Here at home, Washington communities are protesting more coal trains, and more oil trains — with the demonstrated menace of their flammable cargoes.

Climate change comes with expenses that must be acknowledged.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has also produced a list of environmental and economic impacts that touch, in varying degrees, every state in the union.

Washington, Oregon and California were tagged for impacts on public health, agriculture, water scarcity, winter tourism and wildfires.

The governor is engaging the state in a discussion that cannot be ignored. Adaptation costs, mitigation, resiliency, climate disruption and carbon pollution are real.

As officials in the other Washington refuse to confront the realities of what is under way, then responsible state and local officials must act, as Inslee is doing.

Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is ldickie@seattletimes.com



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